The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Apr 1974, p8

Scientology's new face

A query in the street to start you talking


"Scientology is a religion which deals with the increase of awareness of the spirit and the achievement of higher spiritual standards."

The Reverend Mrs Helen Pickett, of the Church of Scientology, April, 1974.

"Scientology is evil; its techniques evil; its practice a serious threat to the community medically, morally and socially; and its adherents sadly deluded and often mentally ill."

The Victorian Anderson Report on scientology, October, 1965.

"How many shoes do you have on your feet?"

Scientology worker at George Street pedestrian crossing, April, 1974.

MY FIRST reaction was an almost irresistible urge to ask: "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?"

Instead, I asked Mrs Helen Pickett why her office at the Church of Scientology was labelled "Office of the Guardian."

She told me that she was really the assistant guardian, and that their job was "to protect the church from those who would attack it, to make the environment safe enough to expand into."

She is also a minister of the church as is her husband, Frank. She is attractive, petite, in her early twenties. When I met her she was wearing a black dress that would not have been out of place at a cocktail party.

On a chain around her neck hung what at first I took to be a crucifix; in fact, she said, it represented the unbounded spirit, the physical universe and man's principal urges towards survival.

During a 90-minute interview she answered questions calmly and fluently, a far cry from the 1960s when scientologists tended to field reporters' questions with a terse "no comment."

She seemed totally at ease as she explained the strange beliefs of scientology, and was genuinely perplexed when I expressed scepticism at the end of the interview.

Helen Pickett is the new face of scientology in Sydney.

It is this face of sweet reasonableness that Mrs Pickett and her friends will present to Sydney tomorrow in an "Australian Friendship Revival."

The church has hired the concert hall at the Opera House - at a cost of about $1,000 - and, among other things, will explain "what happiness and success are made of."

Can this be the same organisation as that damned in 1965 - as "a serious medical, moral and social threat to individuals and to the community generally"?

Mrs Pickett regards such criticisms as nonsense. "If you know scientology as it really is, you will know that there are so many millions of people across the world who have had lasting spiritual gains from it," she said.

But she was quite firm that scientology today was just the same as when it first appeared. "Everything is basically the same, apart from new material and new data," she said.

So I asked if Sunday night at the Opera House might not be seen as a revival of past evils.

"I don't see how it could be seen that way," she replied. "We want to show the public what we are doing, let them know the truth about scientology."

According to Mrs Pickett, the revival tomorrow night comes at a time when scientology is booming in Sydney with new adherents every week.

Her first contact with it had occurred two and a half years ago. Born a Roman Catholic, she had been educated in Tasmania at schools run by the Sisters of Charity and the St. Joseph Sisters.

"I don't know if anything in particular turned me off Catholicism," she said. "I don't think I have ever disagreed with anything Catholicism teaches; basically, I think all religions are the same."

After receiving literature about scientology in the mail in late 1971, she had visited the movement's church at Bondi Junction, and after courses lasting about six months decided to join its staff.

Last October she was made a minister. Wasn't the process rather swift?

"It doesn't take very long," she said, adding that she knew she could carry out a minister's duties so there was little point in delaying.

Asked about changes in the movement, she affirmed there were few differences between the movement now and when it had first begun, although some material had been improved and expanded.

The church's income came from donations by adherents - "these are mainly for the spiritual training and counselling." A communications course cost from $10, while spiritual counselling cost a basic $187 for 12½ hours.

"As you go on - say you get 50 hours - the charge is proportionately less," she said. "This covers basic administrative costs. We are able to survive on that; we don't particularly make a huge profit, but we are not by any means poor."

Asked if files were still kept on individual adherents, she confirmed that they were, but they comprised only "communications with parishioners an their communications with us - we don't record confessional material."

(The Victorian inquiry into scientology said: "... the existence of files containing the most intimate secrets and confessions of thousands of individuals is a constant threat to them and is a matter of grave concern.")

Mrs Pickett said that after the Victorian inquiry a code of reform had emerged from an internal survey of scientology "so that we no longer take down confessional records."

How did she reply to the Victorian inquiry's statement that scientology dwelt on sexual matters "extensively and erotically"?

"I can't see in any way how our teachings are concerned with mainly sexual matters," she replied. "If someone has a problem regarding that, if it comes up it comes up; but we never dwell on it - there is really no need to.

"It is very sensational to say things like 'scientology dwells on sexual matters and emphasises them,' but that's all it is - sensational; it was never, at any time, true."

But had not the Victorian inquiry produced evidence to back up its claim?

"The files that were used were confessional materials, and I am absolutely positive that they were not a good cross section of what was talked about."

Mrs Pickett confirmed that E-meters (a device which, the Victorian inquiry stated, was put to "dastardly" use in scientology) were still used by the church.

They were used "as a spiritual aid only; they work to locate areas of what we call 'charge'," she said. "They are sold only to ministers. I bought mine second-hand for $140. A new E-meter costs $200 here."

As we talked, scientology staff worked busily in an outer office. At one table, people were filling out personality tests.

Some, perhaps, had been attracted to the office by the sort of question quoted at the beginning of this article: "How many shoes do you have on your feet?"

That sort of nonsensical query has been put to anyone who cared to stop beside young people who have waited during the past few weeks at a pedestrian crossing in Railway Square, near the scientology offices.

After passers-by have answered the question, they are offered a free personality test; I was offered one last week but turned it down.

I asked Mrs Pickett what was the logic behind the question.

"I don't know actually, I would have to inquire," she said.

Having inquired, she informed me that the question was "basically to get people into communication. To ask, 'how would you like to be introduced into the Church of Scientology?' might not get a reaction."

On the other hand, of course, a direct approach might well get a reaction; whether scientologists would like that reaction is quite another matter.